And so, just in time for July, I’m back from a busy weekend spent at the inaugural Hay Festival Kells. Happy new week, happy new month, and hope you’ve missed me a little – but not too much. How’ve you all been? It’s great to be back.
You know, I used to think that being surrounded by books would be the best thing ever. I mean, ever. Better than being surrounded by piles of money or rivers of gold or whatever else you might want to think of. Lakes of beer, possibly. Anyway, now, I know it’s true. From Friday morning to yesterday evening, that’s pretty much exactly the situation I found myself in. Except it was even better than I’d imagined, because my husband was there, which always makes a fun thing even more fun. Also, as well as all the books, we had plenty of historical-stroke-archaeological things to look at, too, on account of Kells being well over a thousand years old, all told.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more amazing, do you know what the most exciting and wonderful bit, out of all the exciting and wonderful bits this weekend held, was? We got to see this lady here:
I still can’t quite believe I managed to find myself in the same room as Jeanette Winterson, for it is she in the wonderful image above. But it happened. And all for the rock-bottom bargain sum of €8.00. How cool is that?
Jeanette Winterson gave a talk on Friday evening, one of the definite highlights of the festival overall, where she spoke about her writing life and her childhood and read some sections from her recent novel ‘Why Be Happy When you Could Be Normal?’; my husband, who has never read a word of her work, was pretty much won over by the charming warmth of her presence and the power of her prose (well, at least he was on Friday evening – I’m not sure how long the effect lasted.) I think he may even read one of her books, but whisper it in case he gets spooked. He doesn’t generally ‘do’ fiction, so I’ve tried to sell ‘Why Be Happy…’ to him on the grounds that it’s pretty much an autobiography, and largely non-fiction. I’ll wear him down, never fear.
After the dizzy heights of a Jeanette Winterson reading, then, the weekend had a lot to live up to – it managed admirably, of course. Saturday was spent going from pop-up bookshop to pop-up bookshop, wherein several gems were unearthed; most of the bookshops were selling second-hand books, however, which you may remember me spouting off about only the other day here on the blog. I managed to keep my purchases to a minimum – for me, at least – and I did my best to buy sensibly and with conscience, bearing in mind that all the money raised through second-hand book sales was going to some form of charity. I hope I managed to strike the appropriate balance, most of the time.
Hay Festival Kells also showed me an important truth about my marriage, believe it or not. I’ve never really had cause to wonder whether my husband and I are a good match, but just in case there was any chance that a hint of doubt could ever start to grow in my mind, this weekend put paid to it. We are, of course, two peas in one pod. Nothing tests a union more than spending hours doing something that other people would probably find deathly boring, and not only enjoying it, but completely losing track of time while enjoying it – and not even caring. We spent hours trawling through books, completely happy to beaver away – he in the non-fiction sections, I up to my eyes in the children’s, usually – and topped all that off with trips to each of the town’s historical sites. Kells was founded by monks in the eighth or ninth century, so it has plenty of those. We spent time in the house of St Colmcille, rebuilt in the eleventh century (and absolutely amazing to look at – the stonework is mindblowing), and we gazed upon the huge Market Cross, a Celtic cross probably made in the tenth century and re-erected in the seventeenth by no less a figure than Dean Jonathan Swift. I didn’t learn until after I’d visited it that it was used as a gallows during the 1798 Rebellion; on reflection, I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time.
I may never have mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to cemeteries – not in a ghoulish way, but in a historical-enthusiast way. My husband isn’t always as intrigued as I am, but he’s usually happy to let me have my fix. This weekend he showed great forbearance and patience, for Kells is full of historical burial grounds; he didn’t once complain, but just dived in and joined me in my explorations (further proof that he is the man for me, I think.) I love looking at old tombstones, admiring the workmanship of the lettering, marvelling at the age of the burial, wondering about the people who’ve passed away and what their lives were like. I do, admittedly, tend to get quite emotional at times, particularly when I encounter graves wherein entire families are interred, and/or a list of children’s ages are spelled out on the headstone. Sadly, this is not uncommon, particularly during times of plague or famine, to which Ireland is no stranger. One of the sites we visited was a Famine graveyard – I’m using the capitalised form because I’m talking about the Great Famine of the 1840s here – and it was, pretty much, a blank field with a stone cross memorial in it. No markers exist for individual burials, no gravestones, no names. I admit I wept, and I prayed for the souls of those who’d died.
It’s amazing to think the Famine happened something like 170 years ago, but the pain of it still sears across the heart of Ireland. Anyway.
So, we trudged home yesterday evening with our books and our thoughts in tow, and now we’re facing into another week. My husband has a few more days holiday from work, and I’m trying to spend as much time with him as possible while still thinking about everything that’s on my schedule for this week and this month – more competitions, more entries, more agency submissions, more ideas to sketch out, more dreams to form and shape and plan for – more amazing things ahead, I hope.
I hope you’re looking forward to July, and that you’re planning holidays or thinking of taking some time out. I recommend going to a book festival, you know, just in case you’re looking for something to do…